On Paul Capsis

Alison Grogan

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The other evening, as I walked homewards through the lashing rain of a wintry Melbourne night, my heart too swollen and luminous with blood to feel the cold, I wondered what it is that makes Paul Capsis great. Not good, but great: the kind of greatness that tears open your own mortality, that makes you feel so intensely present that you are lifted out of time and find yourself poised in anguished nostalgia for these moments that are falling now, like shining water, through your open fingers.

What is it, I thought, about this funny, short, skinny, ugly, beautiful man, this man who flounces onto the stage in his brown velvet suit, staring at us with the eyes of an Egyptian heiroglyph, his gaudily be-ringed hands fluttering like broken doves as he offers his fragility and grotesqueness like a sacrifice on the altar of our possible scorn, our possible adoration? Yes, he has the voice of an angel (or perhaps several angels: he is never singular). But that is by no means the whole of it.

And then the word came to me: he has duende .

Federico Garcia Lorca defines duende thus: “The duende…is a power, not a work; it is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet'. Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”

And further: “All that has black sounds is duende”. And further: “All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds its greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance and spoken poetry, for these arts require a body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present.”

The duende stands on the rim of the wound, inviting death to be its playmate. Janis Joplin had duende. She was that wild, raw wind that stripped each song to its bone, and then broke the bone open to its bitter marrow. When Capsis sings a Joplin song, he does not silence us because he is giving us a perfect imitation of a dead woman. No, he is summoning the death that choked her in every song she sang, and it scrapes across his throat like a hacksaw. He is summoning the blood that raced through her body, and its crimson arc as it spilled out in her magnificent voice, he is calling up within his own flesh the ecstatic awkwardness of a body on the threshold of a blazing knowledge that can only be known in the body, glorious and bright and transient as the incandescent filament that blazes in the centre of a spotlight.

He is embarrassed by neither kitsch nor art: the duende is possible anywhere. He sings a Paul Kelly song and then a ballad from Schubert's Winterreise . In the taut-breathed silence the duende laughs like a demonic flame, and then it dares to tickle us. It has no respect for niceties. It likes crude jokes and naïve gestures. It lives in the fractures these crudities open within us, leaping out in the sudden gracelessness of a movement that forbids illusion. Its pretence is all fraud: all the time, it is telling the truth.

Paul Capsis is not Janis Joplin, nor Nancy Sinatra, nor Judy Garland. He is Paul Capsis, and he is a slender man with hands that are graceful white spiders climbing around his face, and he is sitting six feet away on the edge of the stage hurting us with a voice as pure as acetylene. His face is a mask, it changes all the time, it mocks us and seduces us, it says, you can have everything and nothing. His face is a mask of the most minute expressiveness; but his voice is naked.

Paul Capsis and Alister Spence, The Coloured Girls Go... @ the Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until June 30.

Posted by Alison Croggon at 11:55 PM Full post



Every one wants to touch me cd“Whether swooning with soul, or belting it out like a bruise, Capsis’ turbo-powered voice makes each tune his own.”
Sunday Telegraph

“Capsis did more than uplift; he had the audience almost levitating with sheer delight.” The Age

Paul Capsis has donned many guises during his time in the spotlight as Australia’s most loved cabaret artist and extraordinary channeller of tragic divas from Judy to Janis or as an inspirational and award-winning actor in film and theatre.

With Everybody Wants to Touch Me, his first studio album (and the accompanying live shows), Capsis wipes off the make-up and steps up to the mic as himself - and simply sings with a voice described as an ‘act of God’ that traverses the octaves with ease and is visceral in its emotional impact.

“Its like I’ve waited my whole career to make this album. It is about my voice and being myself, not impersonating others. When I first started performing these songs I felt like I was walking on stage nude but then I felt an amazing sense of relief and freedom. It was a dream I almost gave up on but people like Philip Mortlock, Tim Freedman, Kevin Kehoe and Alister Spence have enabled me to realise it. I’m incredibly proud of this album,” says Paul

On Everybody Wants to Touch Me Capsis interprets songs from the full spectrum of his inspirations - from the hip swaying gospel of ‘I’m on My Way’ to the breathtaking pathos of Sonny Bono’s ‘Bang Bang’ to a 60’s psychedelic rock version of The Supreme’s ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. Songwriters as diverse as Prince, Mahalia Jackson, Franz Schubert and Australians Paul Kelly (title track), Don Walker and Sarah McGregor all share room on the album. It also includes two of Capsis’ own songs - the exquisite ‘Angela’s Sea’, a heartbreaking snapshot of the migrant experience and a beautiful homage to Capsis’ beloved grandmother as well as the rock riff and gutsy ‘Red Door’.

Developed from live shows with the same stellar band line-up featured on the album (Lloyd Swanton, Carl Dewhurst, Toby Hall) recorded in Sydney and the Byron Bay hinterland, Everybody Wants To Touch Me brings together brilliant pianist and arranger Alister Spence with producer Kevin Kehoe whose inspired touch can be heard on tracks such as ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Subway’.

Make sure you catch Paul Capsis in this mode before he reincarnates again! Capsis will be appearing as Riff Raff in the new stage version of cult classic Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show from Feb 2008.

Black Yak Records www.blackyakrecords.com

Media enquiries: Clare McGregor on 0418 192 524 or claremcg@bigpond.net.au